Lost in all the attention and hype surrounding Saturday’s matchup at Lambeau Field between Wisconsin and Ohio State is the fact that it is a vital game for both teams.
The No. 4 men’s hockey team (14-6-2 WCHA, 19-7-2 overall) needs to bring some momentum into the home stretch of the highly contested WCHA race, while the Buckeyes (10-10-2 CCHA, 14-12-4) need a late-season surge if they plan on making any noise in the postseason.
“Once you start playing, you’re pretty focused on not getting hit and trying to make things happen out there,” head coach Mike Eaves said in a Monday press conference.
“You may think of [the weather] in warm-up a little bit, [but] once you start playing, you don’t think about anything but getting the job done.”
With the WCHA still up for grabs, the Badgers may have to win out the rest of the season to take the coveted conference title. What a better time to start a winning streak than against a gritty Ohio State team, who split two games with Michigan last weekend? The Buckeyes rely more on defense but also scored four goals in the third period to get a 7-5 win over the Wolverines Friday.
That offense is led by sophomore Tom Fritsche and junior Andrew Schembri, who have combined for 42 points and have picked it up with two key Buckeye scorers injured as of late. Freshman Shane Connelly will have to be at his best once again for UW, as Brian Elliott will not return to net at least until next weekend at Michigan Tech.
“Even though [the team] may say, ‘Well, we’re trying to play the same,’ they knew what they had back there with Brian,” Eaves said. “They’re trying to discover what they have with Shane right now; we’re in that process.”
Scoring troubles have plagued the Badgers in the last month, and they cannot underestimate Buckeye goalie Dave Caruso, who has an impressive 1.79 goals against average. The team cannot let up if it gets ahead early, as Michigan scored five goals and still lost to the Buckeyes last weekend.
The game starts at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday and will be televised on FSN.